BYE-BYE, LAWN­MOWER

Ar­ti­fi­cial grass is tak­ing root with some lo­cal home­own­ers

Grand Magazine - - CONTENTS - STORY BY NANCY HARPER

Ar­ti­fi­cial grass is tak­ing root with some lo­cal home­own­ers

Imag­ine spend­ing more hours swing­ing in your ham­mock next sum­mer than fuss­ing over the grass be­low it. It’s a lib­er­at­ing con­cept, espe­cially for any­one who’s been teth­ered to a lawn­mower for one too many sea­sons. It’s also one of the many perks of hav­ing a lawn that’s not only 100 per cent fake, but also easy on the eye. Ar­ti­fi­cial turf has come a long way in re­cent years. Guelph home­own­ers Dar­leen and Mark Cun­ning­ham are among the con­verts. They de­cided to have ar­ti­fi­cial turf in­stalled in 2009 af­ter be­com­ing frus­trated with the swampy con­di­tions that had made their back­yard an un­in­hab­it­able mess. “I just got tired of the whole has­sle, and I didn’t want to have to deal with the wa­ter and mud any­more,” Dar­leen ex­plains. “We had lots of mos­qui­toes, lots of bugs. It was mucky. You couldn’t re­ally en­joy it — I wanted to do some­thing where I could

re­ally en­joy our back­yard.” Dar­leen says go­ing ar­ti­fi­cial was the best de­ci­sion she and her hus­band could have made. “There’s noth­ing I don’t love about it,” she says. “It’s ab­so­lutely amaz­ing. We have frogs that’ll come and sit in the grass. The squir­rels like it. There are no weeds. I don’t have to worry about main­te­nance. You’re not pay­ing for a lawn­mower. One of the fun­ni­est looks I get is when peo­ple say, ‘I have to mow my lawn,’ and I say, ‘Yeah, I have to vac­uum my grass.’ ”

Even for Water­loo Re­gion’s most up­mar­ket homes, where es­thet­ics is ev­ery­thing, ar­ti­fi­cial turf is start­ing to be an op­tion.

One com­pany pro­mot­ing ar­ti­fi­cial grass is Land­scape Ef­fects Group, the south­west­ern On­tario dis­trib­u­tor of Syn­lawn. Ac­count man­ager Jay Lutsch says the fact that lux­ury home­own­ers pride them­selves on per­fec­tion is the very rea­son some are choos­ing syn­thetic grass. “In­stead of plant­ing grass, they’ll use ar­ti­fi­cial turf for spe­cific ar­eas where they don’t want any main­te­nance and they want it look­ing 100 per cent beau­ti­ful all year round,” Lutsch says. Tara and Shane Gra­ham of Water­loo jumped on the syn­thetic-turf band­wagon 10 years ago when they had their back­yard

done. They loved it so much they had the front yard done two years ago — and now sum­mer Satur­days are theirs to do what­ever they like. “Grass is hard to main­tain in our neigh­bour­hood be­cause of the dan­de­lions and weeds in the nearby parks,” Tara says. “And we have an atro­cious grade. We’re lower than our back-door neigh­bours and our yard was a swamp con­stantly — and we have a dog. This was the clean­est method, the eas­i­est, and the low­est main­te­nance.” These days, Tara loves the way her lawn looks – and gets a kick out of the many passers-by who stop to “pet” her grass while out for an evening stroll. “Peo­ple have to take a dou­ble take,” she says. “You have to re­ally look to think if it’s ar­ti­fi­cial or not.”

Mau­rice Nelis­cher, pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus and di­rec­tor for sus­tain­abil­ity at the Univer­sity of Guelph, notes that one draw­back is that no worms or bugs live in ar­ti­fi­cial turf so “it is a dead zone eco­log­i­cally.”

In an email in­ter­view, how­ever, he added that po­ten­tial buy­ers have to bal­ance those con­cerns against “the re­duc­tion in en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age due to wa­ter­ing, fer­til­iz­ing and mow­ing that same piece of ground.”

As for any pos­si­bil­ity of con­tam­i­nants leach­ing into the ground from the ar­ti­fi­cial turf’s com­po­si­tion, Nelis­cher says: “Frankly I don’t think it is big enough to worry about. Espe­cially when you think of the stuff that is on our roads, and the wa­ter washes it away and even­tu­ally into the ground – that stuff has heavy met­als and weird chem­i­cals in it in way larger amounts.”

Much of the con­cern around chem­i­cals in ar­ti­fi­cial turf re­lates to the tiny black rub­ber crumbs (chunks of old tires) of which many sports fields are made. But this rub­ber in­fill, which helps sup­port grass fi­bres and adds an ex­tra layer of pro­tec­tion when peo­ple fall, has been proven safe in more than 50 in­de­pen­dent stud­ies, ac­cord­ing to the non­profit Syn­thetic Turf Coun­cil. As well, the land­scap­ing mar­ket in North Amer­ica has been mov­ing away from rub­ber in­fill and sev­eral or­ganic in­fills are now avail­able, in­clud­ing cork and ground fi­bres from co­conut shells. Syn­lawn mar­ket­ing man­ager Michelle Bal­icki says her com­pany led ma­jor changes in the in­dus­try by elim­i­nat­ing the need for rub­ber crumb in res­i­den­tial ap­pli­ca­tions. The com­pany uses re­new­able re­sources such as sil­ica sand, a 100-per-cent or­ganic prod­uct known as Ze­ofill, and coated sand in­stead. The process of in­stalling ar­ti­fi­cial turf at home is a lot like put­ting in a ce­ment drive­way, Lutsch says. A typ­i­cal sub­ur­ban front lawn in­stal­la­tion takes about two days from start to fin­ish. The price runs be­tween

$8 and $12 per square foot, in­clud­ing in­stal­la­tion. The in­staller digs down about six inches, then lays a six-inch ag­gre­gate base. This is the most im­por­tant part of the pro­ce­dure be­cause if it’s not done cor­rectly, there won’t be the proper amount of drainage and the turf will start peel­ing up. There are many ap­pli­ca­tions other than res­i­den­tial, in­clud­ing play­grounds, high­traf­fic pet ar­eas, golf driv­ing ranges and put­ting greens, roof and deck sys­tems, and sports grounds. “You see (the trend) in Cal­i­for­nia right now,” Lutsch says. “And as time goes on and we get stricter with the con­sump­tion of wa­ter and the use of pes­ti­cides, this is pretty much what you’re go­ing to see. Cities are try­ing to go greener and greener. They just in­stall the turf and once a year give it a power broom and they’re good to go. They’re start­ing the trend in this area and it’s be­ing fol­lowed by home­own­ers.”

For in­for­ma­tion on ar­ti­fi­cial turf op­tions, in­clud­ing the dif­fer­ent types of in­fill ma­te­ri­als, fol­low the links on the web­site of the Syn­thetic Turf Coun­cil, a non-profit trade as­so­ci­a­tion: www.syn­thet­ic­tur­f­coun­cil.org > For the Pub­lic > Fre­quently Asked Ques­tions

ABOVE: Tara Gra­ham FAC­ING PAGE: Low-main­te­nance syn­thetic grass in the Gra­ham’s front yard. TO­MASZ ADAMSKI

Dar­leen and Mark Cun­ning­ham

Low-main­te­nance syn­thetic grass in the Gra­ham’s back­yard

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